Saudi Arabia has opened its doors to the world ... or parts of it at least. The number of travelers to the kingdom since the tourist visa scheme rolled out has been quite staggering.
In a recent meeting with G20 tourism ministers in Japan, Ahmad Al-Khateeb, chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, announced that more than 47,000 visas have been issued within the first month of the launch.
"As an emerging tourism destination, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is excited to be opening its doors to the world," he said.
"We recognize the value of tourism not only as a driver of economic growth but as an important cultural bridge that increases awareness, understanding and respect."
The chairman also highlighted the many different ways Saudi Arabia's tourism sector is in line with Vision 2030. The growing sector is of vital importance to Saudi Arabia, a country whose economy has long been reliant on oil.
Saudi Arabia aims to grow tourism from 3 percent to 10 percent of Saudi Arabia's GDP, according to Al-Khateeb. Earlier this month, the Chief Executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council, Gloria Guevara, said the tourism sector is set to account for 5 percent of the country's GDP by 2021. So, it seems gradual growth is exactly what Saudi Arabia aims to achieve over the next 11 years.
The kingdom also seeks to increase visitors from 18 million a year to 100 million a year by 2030. In turn, the sector will bring about a total of 1.5 million job opportunities.
This month, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed the success rate of the newly implemented visa system just a couple of weeks after it rolled out. Over 24,000 people visited the kingdom in the first 10 days after the visa launch.
Most of the travelers to Saudi Arabia came from China, while visitors from the UK and the U.S. came in second and third place respectively. France, Germany, Canada, Malaysia, Russia, Australia, and Kazakhstan were also among the "top 10 countries" list.
Saudi Arabia has since expanded the visa scheme, which originally allowed tourists from 49 countries to enter the country, to include nationals of "other countries holding a valid commercial or a tourist visa issued by the US, the UK or the European Union's Schengen visa." The country will also be opening up to other people who want to visit the kingdom. All they have to do is approach Saudi missions to apply for a visa.
The new visa allows all successful applicants - both religious and holiday tourists - to enter the kingdom multiple times within a 12-month period on condition that each visit doesn't exceed three months.